There are only a few weeks to the close of entries at this year’s Rolex Commodores’ Cup. Whilst most teams have finalized their boats and crews, others are still engaged in discussions to determine their line-ups. For all teams, both settled and prospective, certain things are set in stone. Most importantly there must be three boats, one in each of the stipulated rating bands, and, all teams must be on the starting grid for the first race on Sunday, 15 August. At present, organisers’, the Royal Ocean Racing Club are expecting 11 teams representing France, Ireland, Hong Kong, South Africa and the United Kingdom to contest the international trophy.
The shaping field looks to be as competitive as ever. The sea battles that have been fought in recent weeks off the coasts of France and Ireland, and, of course, on the event venue waters of the Solent suggest that a no quarter given epic is in the making.
Neutrals, with an eye for the outsider, are likely to follow the progress of the South African team over the course of the Rolex Commodores’ Cup. 2010 marks the first time a team from the world’s second largest continent has participated. As with Hong Kong’s presence in 2008, for this to happen a number of stars have had to be in alignment.
According to Mike Bartholomew, skipper of the team’s Class 2 yacht, the King 40 Tokoloshe, “it was Eddie Warden Owen from the RORC who actually suggested to Rick Nankin and myself that we should consider putting a South African team together. The whole thing really just grew from there. We approached two others we knew well, Phil Gutschi and Rick Garratt, to see if they could join the party. Both were enthusiastic from the word go.” Gutschi owns the Landmark 43, Windpower, to be skippered by Nankin in Class 1, and Garratt has chartered the J-109, Zelda, to be skippered by Dave Hudson in Class 3.
The second catalyst, in Bartholomew’s opinion, has been having a South African owned yacht (Tokoloshe) eligible for the Rolex Commodores’ Cup sailing in the Solent for the past two years, “previously it would have been too much of an ask to put a team together and, in any event, there were not any really competitive boats in South Africa.” Bartholomew is being modest about Tokoloshe’s sailing. She has not just been competing, but has proved a force to be reckoned with in recent months, going head to head with some success against other Rolex Commodores’ Cup contenders on the Solent circuit.
The vast majority of the crews will be South African, easily meeting the strict eligibility criteria for the event, “most of the individuals are from Cape Town. Even Phil, who is from Port Elizabeth, keeps his boat there. The main exceptions are the navigators, Andrew Cape on Windpower and Rick Oswald on Zelda, and, of course, some of the regulars on Tokoloshe.”
Experience is essential for a good result at the Rolex Commodores’ Cup. Not necessarily just time on the waters of the venue, but in competing over a tight, but demanding series. Bartholomew is unconcerned by this aspect, “there is a fair amount of experience in the crews most of whom have had international exposure. Phil has campaigned a number of boats over the years. His skipper Rick Nankin is probably by far the most experienced South African in the mix. But Rick Garratt still remembers the good times of the 1995 Admirals Cup. He will have aboard Mark Sadler, the skipper of Shosholoza the South African entry in the previous Americas Cup.” All three boats will be in UK waters by Cowes Week and will use that regatta as a final serious warm-up.
One final element in the list of irresistible forces was the involvement of the Race Ahead project. David Hudson and his brother Roger have been part of the sailing scene for almost all their lives, and, both are very successful sailors in their own right. In 2008 they created 'Race Ahead', a project aimed at giving South Africa's young sailing talent a structured route into the international sailing world. The project has allowed young South Africans to compete in the highly competitive Laser SB3 circuit in the UK and Ireland. The effort has not been without reward: a top 10 overall finish at Cowes Week; followed by a class win at Cork Week and a second overall at the inaugural Laser SB3 World Championship in Dublin. For Garrett to have access to this pool of talent was a major motivating factor in his participation.
Just like Hong Kong, the South African team is not just coming along for the ride. Bartholomew is succinct on this point, “we will try to win.”
The 2010 Rolex Commodores' Cup will be held off Cowes, Isle of Wight, from 15 to 21 August.